For the longest time I was intimidated by the idea of working with yeast and making bread. It all seemed just that little bit mysterious and laborious to me – working with what is actually a living organism, kneading, proving and ending up with something crusty and desirable seemed slightly complicated and unlikely to be the outcome for me! Of course, one day I watched a friend make some fresh bread rolls for her family and it was immediately obvious that this was a simple and hugely satisfying past-time and one I embraced wholeheartedly – as my hips can now attest. For some years I made all our bread, first by hand and later with the help of my trusty Kenwood Chef mixer and it’s dough hook. Later still, I invested in a bread-making machine, although I still occasionally enjoy working out my parental frustrations on a large pile of dough on the bench. I never really saw myself as any sort of ‘earth-mother’, but I am very greedy and there is really nothing to compare to fresh, warm bread covered in butter – mmm.
A little while ago I came across this wonderful little recipe that is easy and quick enough to send even the most reluctant bread maker out to the kitchen to give it a try. I originally found it somewhere on the internet, but subsequently bought the book called “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, which has the master recipe and a wealth of variations besides.
If you have ever thought of baking homemade bread then this is the recipe for you and you will soon be turning out beautiful ‘rustic’ loaves, but there are always a few things to remember when baking bread. You should always use “strong flour” or flour labelled “bread flour” as it has a higher gluten content, giving the bread more elasticity enabling it to hold the pockets of CO2 that form. Ordinary cake flour will not give you a proper bread crumb or consistency. Also, the moisture content needed to make the dough will vary depending on humidity, geographical elevation and sometimes just the use of a new batch of flour so you will need to be a little flexible about it. If the dough seems too stiff just add a little more warm water to loosen it up a bit. The longer you store the dough in the fridge, the more of a “sour dough” taste it will acquire. You can pass this on to subsequent batches by saving a little of the old dough to add to the next batch.
Once you have mastered this bread there is no end of ways to vary it by adding cheese, herbs, olives, fruit and spices – whatever! I added chopped walnuts and fresh, chopped rosemary to my last loaf which promptly vanished before the camera was even thought of!
Anybody game enough to give it a try and report back???
SIMPLE CRUSTY BREAD
1 & 1/2 pkt. freeze dried yeast (available in all supermarkets)
1 & 1/2 Tbsp salt
6 & 1/2 cups bakers flour
3 cups warm water (I always need about 1/2 cup extra)
In a large plastic container mix yeast, salt and flour together, then add warm water. If it is too hot to put your finger in, then it is too hot to use and will kill the yeast. Mix dough with a wooden spoon until it is all moistened with no dry bits – dough should be fairly loose. Do not knead it. Cover with lid – NOT airtight – and leave to rise 2-5 hours.
At this point, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
When you are ready to bake a loaf just cut off a piece of the dough of the required size. Turn in your hands to lightly stretch the dough, tucking it in on itself underneath to form a ball. Rest the dough for about 45 minutes on a sheet sprinkled with cornmeal.
Preheat oven to 210C and after the dough has rested sprinkle with a little flour and slash diagonally on the top. Put in oven either on the baking sheet or transfer to a preheated pizza stone.
Place a tray in the bottom of the oven and put 1-2 cups of hot water in it. The steam produced by this water will give you a lovely crunchy crust on your loaf.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
Cool on a rack.